Planning professionals understand that many factors must come together to create a place that people want to live ... one that can evolve in an organic way over generations ... one that becomes a community that is sustainable and diverse.  The primary building blocks of a sustainable community that will reduce our carbon footprint and achieve longevity are:

  • A well-planned multi-modal transportation network;
  • Compact, walkable, mixed use patterns of development;
  • Well-planned denser development in urban areas where infrastructure exists;
  • Provision of civic spaces and interconnected open spaces for active and passive recreations;
  • Economic vitality and job choices;
  • Multiple choices in housing styles, price and size;
  • A robust educational system; and
  • A unique identity that a resident can be proud of, creating a desire to raise their families there and participate in contributing to the civic activities and culture of the community.

The United States has built its history on the vast availability of land for community development.  In addition to the vastness of our open land and strong private property rights, a fundamental tenet of America’s founding, the resulting land use patterns are single-use and sprawling in suburban communities.  To further this pattern of sprawl, the availability of automobiles to the majority of our population has given people the ability to drive longer distances to work, shop and recreate.  Public policy in recent decades has largely supported the construction of an expansive road network, with little emphasis or funding allocated to improving other modes of transportation.

As a nation, we are trying to shift from unsustainable sprawl to a more compact, efficient, and urban paradigm that increases our individual and collective quality of life while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Transit and other alternative modes of transportation such as walking or biking, must support these land-use patterns. Change is difficult, but progress is necessary if we are to provide for quality of life through walkable communities, mixed use, affordable housing and transportation costs, and preservation of open lands that provide water, natural resources and resistance to climate change.

Where people live determines how far they travel to work, to shopping, and to other destinations, and influences whether they choose to walk, bike, use public transit, or drive. If residents live near bus stops, neighborhood‐serving commercial centers, or their work places, they are more likely to use alternative, lower‐emission travel modes than the single-occupant automobile.

Public policy and strategies should support the basics of a sustainable community through adoption of supportive land development and zoning codes, building codes, design guidelines and other policies, programs and incentives that do not create barriers to the creation of compact, mixed-use and denser development in areas where infrastructure investment exists or is planned. A sustainable land use pattern for a community should also focus on the encouragement and facilitation of infill and redevelopment.

The Basics for Community Action

Particularly in this era of dwindling resources, the efficient use of land and resources results in a bottom-line savings that all communities are seeking.  Simply said, by reducing the use of energy, natural resources and land, costs are reduced (i.e. money is saved) for energy use, water consumption, fuel, and land consumption.

Planners should apply the following basic tenants to all of the projects they undertake in both the public and private sectors. These types of projects include a range of actions such as creation of community sustainability plans; proactive long-range planning for climate change; vision plans built on sustainability tenants; form-based code; revisions to land development codes; community master plans for innovative projects such as Alys Beach in north Florida, Baldwin Park and Celebration in Orlando and Viera in east Florida; and strategic, large-scale and long range plans for large landowners desiring to position their property for future community development using a “Ranch to New Town” approach.

The principles to apply include:

  • Plan for increased density in centers and along corridors
  • Encourage mix of uses in development/redevelopment
  • Facilitate infill development and retrofitting of suburban neighborhoods
  • Provide for alternate modes of transportation in a walkable environment
  • Preserve open space for natural resource enhancement
  • Create vibrant civic spaces in urban areas
  • Implement policies to direct growth near existing transit routes
  • Provide shared parking reductions and mixed-use development incentives
  • Complete missing sidewalk connections around transit corridors
  • Provide bicycle parking and service stations at major transit centers
  • Plan for climate change as it affects the location of infrastructure and land use patterns
  • Update Land Development Code; evaluate and retool zoning requirements and building code
  • Adopt Pedestrian and street connectivity standards
  • Improve the vitality of mixed-use neighborhood-serving commercial centers through increased density allowance and enhanced design
  • Conduct land use and market analyses to identify sites within expansive residential areas that could support new or expanded neighborhood commercial centers.
  • Identify potential bike & pedestrian connections between residential and commercial areas.
  • Adopt ‘complete streets’ policies
  • Improve community access to transit